Monday, November 9, 2015

Trip to Kinshasa, DR Congo (November 2015)...

Two women carrying breads on their heads...
Quarterly I travel to four countries to attend the board meetings of four micro financial institutions in
Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and DR Congo. Among these countries, DR Congo is always the most challenging countries for a few reasons.

First, the travel itinerary is a challenge. I have to leave Kigali around 1:30am and spend more than six hours in Nairobi to catch the next flight to Kinshasa. To go to the Kigali airport, I normally leave home around 9pm so the waiting period is quite long. The return trip is not any better. I still have to wait for more than five hours in Nairobi to catch the flight back to Kigali and it arrives around mid night. So the travel itinerary is a challenge.

Second, the immigration process in Kinshasa is a challenge. I was held up at the immigration office because I did not have Rwanda's residence card for about an hour. It was all provided to DR Congo's embassy in Kigali whey I applied for a visa. Why would they ask for it when I already have a visa? Also, I was held up at the health control center because I forgot to bring the Yellow Fever vaccination card. It was my mistake that I forgot to bring it with me, but because of this, I was taken into a small office where up to six people showed up and expected me to pay a fine of $60 or more. This time, I was not prepared to pay no matter what and I told them that if I was not allowed to enter the country, I would rather return to Kigali. They let me go without collecting my fine, and my colleagues called it a miracle. This hassle, at least to me, seems a significantly improved procedure. So what would it have been like in the past? The immigration process is a challenge.

Third, the government officials have no control over people, thus are not respected and people are disorderly. Every step of the government process, government officials expect a bribe to process what they are paid to do. Their duty is a privilege to other people, in other words. Since people are not respecting the government and its officials, they do not respect and honor the laws either. Traffic signals are rare. Even at an 8 lane 2-way street, cars are making left turns without traffic signal. People are freely crossing such wide streets even over the concrete barriers in between. It is the same to workers in plain clothes or ladies dressed in skirts or gentlemen in suits. They all cross the streets, walking or running. Even children join the adults. What an un-exemplary education to them! I passed by four bridges for pedestrians and none, not one, was using the well-built bridges.

Fourth, the gap between the have's and have-not's seems so wide, making me sad. DR Congo is a country that has abundant natural resources that are sufficient to fee not only its own population of 70 million people but also the entire Africans, a report says. But the government's lack of ability, integrity and desire to do good to its own people, corruption is rampant and the result is chronic poverty for its people. Wars continue and people continue to be displaced. Women and children are the greatest victims. Who's responsible for this mess?

As usual, we spent time to discuss and decide on the future of OI DRC. We also had a dinner with staff. The sunset over Congo River was beautiful and breath-taking.

Sun setting over the Congo River...
This time, I spent a little more time in Kinshasa. Noteworthy was making a visit with two clients.

The first one was Regina. She started a micro library in a poor community in Macina, Kinshasa approximately five years ago based on a $500 loan from OI DRC. She faced doubts from parents in the community, but she has been able to convince them with persistent efforts and has now 43 students of 3-5 ages. They come to the 20 m2 tiny room to learn to read and write. They can read whatever books that are on the bookcases. All of them were worn and torn, but the children must be happy to read them. One of the directors, Jane Nelson, brought English books from the U.S. and donated them to the library. Regina, along with her husband and her nice, Cecile, were excited to have English books that will surely bring additional value to the little children. Regina collects $25 per trimester and has already paid off the loan.

Jane, Cecile and Regina

Before our second visit, we stopped by OI DRC's Macina Branch. Situated in the local market, it attracts and serves many clients. The branch was neat and clean, unlike the surrounding environment. But it was a bank.

The second visit was made to Daniel who runs a private school in one of the poorest communities in Kinshasa. The entrance to the village was a garbage dump site. Naturally the narrow road was covered with trashes. People walk on them and children were all exposed to them. Down the hill, the road turned to a soft mud that would obviously create a condition that would not allow for cars or motorcycles to pass. Most of the children were in bare feet. They were smiling but their surrounding was disturbing at best. Daniel started to expand his school 4 years ago when he received a $300 loan from OI DRC. At that time, his school has 200 students, but not has 480 students. The school has only 4 classrooms and students come in two shifts, morning and afternoon. Existing classrooms are in shabby huts or shacks, but OI DRC loan enabled him to build cement-walled classrooms. Currently, he has up to 8th grade but will continue to expand as the classrooms are built. He works with 9 teachers for primary students and 4 teachers for secondary students, plus 4 administrative staff. Students pay $100 per year for primary students and $120 for secondary students. Daniel said that many students are on the waiting list. I could sense a strong evidence of transformation impact to the people with a micro credit. On the way back, my heart was heavy burdened with what I saw.

Daniel and Clement, Branch Manager who first gave the loan
This is the school... with 4 classrooms
One of the classrooms in a shack
In front of cement-walled classroom being built (Nadine)
Sand-bagged stairs
School was off, but we saw some children
The entrance to the village... covered with trashes
On the way back, we passed through a local market and I was able to take snap photos as the car was passing by. Some came out nice and natural. But their living and working conditions were reflecting ultra poverty, making our hearts sad.

May the Lord bless the country with a good and strong leader to rescue people from disorderly poverty prevalent to the entire country! - Jeffrey 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Road Trip on Pacific Coast Highway (September 2015)

The road trip on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is always fun, exciting and panoramic.

1st Day: San Francisco to San Luis Obispo -  We started the journey from Half Moon Bay near San Francisco. Half Moon Bay is a beautiful place with a variety of interesting things to see and do. We have already covered it with Joyce.

We stopped over at Pescadero Beach but only briefly and also at Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz had a board walk filled with arcades and fun rides. Obviously it was not for us, but for young families with young children.

On the way down towards San Luis Obispo, we passed through vast farm lands. Here and there, we saw farm houses that sold fruits and vegetables from their warehouses. The U.S. is a country that received much blessing with abundance. We enjoyed fresh California fruits we normally taste in Rwanda, such as grapes, grape fruits, cantaloupes, honeydews.

Monterey is a beautiful port city where you can find an impressive aquarium and delicious foods. We tried clam chowder on bread and calamari at the pier and they were excellent! Probably the best we have eaten thus far. It was an off-season so the place was less crowded, but the beauty remained.

The 17 Mile Drive is a magical route along the fabulously beautiful coastal lines and world-renowned golf courses around the Pebble Beach. The dark green pine and cypress trees have sustained themselves in the midst of ocean winds, but their shapes have been significantly distorted and twisted. We saw many sea lions and seagulls which harmonize themselves with the nature. Ahhhh. It was a breath-taking tour and my senses seem still digesting the impact.

Bunch of sea lions lying down at the beach
We passed through pretty winding roads that appeared never-ending. California reeds were greeting us along the way, waiving their hands and heads. The Big Sur area was particularly rocky with curly roads, but the view from the roadside cliff was stunning! We passed through the Bixby Bridge, a landmark for the Big Sur area.

A stunning view of the ocean from above at the roadside cliff
  We also passed through a forest national park in Big Sur where we could find gigantic red woods, a symbol of California. Literally, cars can pass through the tree trunks.

We stayed overnight in San Luis Obispo, a small city in Central California. We used to do vacationing often in this area when our children were little. So the entire area gave us a nostalgic feeling.

2nd Day: San Luis Obispo to Solvang via Santa Barbara - The next day, we explored the Avila Beach where we spent most of our vacation time, playing golf, wandering the port to buy fresh fish, playing in the shallow water, enjoying the hot springs and strolling in the Thursday Farmers Market. We spent quiet time at the pier watching the birds and seals that were also enjoying in the sun. Just a beautiful and tranquil place...

We stopped over at the Pismo Beach, previously known as the capital of clams. I am not sure if they still have them. But, it was fun to walk around the pier and the downtown district. Surfers were riding the waves although the distance was rather short and the waves were tiny.

After exploring Avila and Pismo Beaches, we drove down to Santa Barbara, a 2-hour drive. We visited the Museum of Art located downtown. Coincidentally they were displaying Asian arts. They had arts from several countries in Asia, including Japan, China, India, Pakistan, Nepal, but they did not have any from Korea. No wonder, the East Sea was described as the Japan Sea. Culture and art are important means of diplomacy.

We also visited the Old Santa Barbara Mission and remembered the old pilgrimage life.

We drove back up to Solvang for the second night. Solvaning is a city that the Danish people established imitating the heritage and culture of the Denmark. An interesting place to visit.
Solvang brewery
3rd Day: Solvang to Laguna Beach via Los Angeles City - The third day, we headed down south, passing by Zuma Beach, Malibu Beach and Santa Monica Beach. Malibu Beach is one of the exotic places where many celebrities live on the secluded mountain hills. Ironically, we also saw inexpensive-looking motels and fab houses on the way in the same city. We passed by the Pepperdine University that is located on a hill looking over the Pacific Ocean. Its campus looks like a resort to me.

Santa Monica Beach is a beach for common people. A lot of people hang out there for sun-bathing and people-watching. Also, many people play beach volleyball.

We had to stop over in Los Angeles Korea Town to check my eye sight. It has not worsened since 18 months earlier. A good sign.

We then headed further south passing by the Huntington Beach, a surfer's haven and the New Port Beach, another beach town for the wealthy.

Finally, we arrived in Laguna Beach, an art town full of art galleries. After we checked in, we drove out to have dinner with Grace Kim and her family. Grace was a student when I was serving at Korean Central Prebyterian Church in Denver (KCPC). Now she is a mother of three children, married to a medical doctor. Her mom also joined us for dinner. It was a joyous reunion. Besides, she reminded me that she worked for Premier Bank for a couple of years and also I wrote a recommendation letter when she applied to a law school. It was a small world. She also wanted to help out the SfK Ministries.

4th Day: Laguna Beach to San Diego - The next day, we explored the town of Laguna Beach, a cute but beautiful town, which has the famous Las Brisas Mexican Restaurant. I used to see many artists drawing and painting on easels on the hills by the beach. Unfortunately, we did not see any this time. But we visited a few art galleries and enjoyed the art pieces.

We then drove on the local streets to enjoy many beaches along the coast. After we stopped over at La Jolla Cove and watched the breaking water. Somehow we could not find a place where we dined after we ministered with a medical and dental team in Tijuana, Mexico.

Finally, we arrived in San Diego, a city with more than 300 days of sunshine. It has attracted many retirees from all over the places in the U.S. We drove down to the border, but had to return after seeing a giant Mexican flag beyond the border. Also, we checked out the famous Hotel Coronado that started almost 200 years ago.

5th Day: San Diego to Los Angeles - The following day, our goal was to drive up the Los Angeles to get ready to take a red-eye flight to Atlanta, GA. On the way, we had quick lunch with Daniel Pak, who used to serve the Project BGAN ministry, a mission mobilization ministry in Denver. He was working for Experian. Also, we had dinner with Elder Suk Hwan Kim, who is now ministering in China. All reunions were joyous.
With Daniel Pak in Irvine
With Suk Hwan Kim in Los Angeles
Our 4-night 5-day road trip from San Francisco to San Diego gave us a wonderful recollection of the beautiful memory of the past. As always, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity that we enjoyed. - Jeffrey